This article was published in 2010, in Newsletter 90.
Over the years the Newsletter has reported on Cambridgeshire County Council’s policy of insisting that cyclists in promotional material should be shown wearing helmets. That discriminatory policy now seems to be turning into an insistence that all their staff must wear helmets and high visibility clothing (hi-viz) while using a bicycle on County business.
The insistence on helmeted-only cyclists in promotional material has come from the County’s Road Safety section, which seems totally focussed on helmets and hi-viz. If a great photo of some cyclists enjoying a ride is put forward to promote cycling, they count the number of heads and the number of helmets and, if they don’t match, the photo is usually rejected.
In 2007 I reported on videos made by a campaign member that showed how he was regularly being cut-up by motor-traffic (see Newsletter 73). Rather than challenge the dangerous driving in the ensuing BBC Radio Cambridgeshire interview, the County’s Road Safety officer told the cyclist (who was already wearing a helmet and hi-viz) to ‘wear safety equipment’.
This obsessional policy had led to a blindness to the real dangers that road cyclists face day-to-day. Cyclists wearing ordinary clothes are not doing anything illegal or inappropriate, so being told to ‘wear safety equipment’ undermines their liberty. Rather than protecting them it undermines them by implying it’s their fault if anything goes wrong.
Following the video story in 2007, the Campaign had a long and difficult meeting with Road Safety officers. Unfortunately their stance didn’t change, and in fact we’ve seen it harden with the emphasis on promotion that the Cycle Cambridge project has brought to the city and surrounding area.
We’ve heard about squabbles that Cycle Cambridge have had with Road Safety on this matter, and that some relaxed images that were initially approved have subsequently been swapped for universally helmeted images.
The County Council has now gone a step further and Road Safety bosses have instructed the Adult Cycle Trainers (myself included) that we must now wear helmets and hi-viz while riding a bicycle on County business. As the Newsletter goes to press, those staff are still awaiting written confirmation of this instruction.
The answer is to provide good quality cycle training. The Road Safety team has a good record of delivering cycle training across the county. For many years this has included on-road training for school-age children. The introduction of Bikeability has built on that by making the cycle training more professional.
Neither Bikeability, nor National Standards Cycle Training, requires instructors to wear helmets or hi-viz. There are both pros and cons to wearing those items and these are discussed as part of the course delivery. It is then left to the trainee to decide what to wear. If those decisions are to be respected, then it follows that the choice should also apply to the instructors.
Good cycle training trumps narrow messages about clothing. I’ve praised the Road Safety section in the past where they’ve sought to improve knowledge about cycling, such as with the Do it by Cycle DVD. But I must condemn a policy which undermines the quality of the cycle training and my liberty to ride on the road perfectly legally.
Who should decide what is legal on UK roads – Parliament or the County Council? It looks like the Campaign will have a lot more work to do with Road Safety to steer them away from a policy which, if formally adopted, will be a disaster. By regular cycling we’re more likely to extend our lives than shorten them, and so Cambridgeshire should be proud of its cyclists – whatever they’re wearing.
If you want to get involved, join the newly-established list by subscribing: www.camcycle.org.uk/lists/liberty/subscriptions.html